Mailhandlers Union Brief Challenges USPS Network Changes

(July 11, 2012)  As previously announced, in December 2011, the Postal Service filed a request with the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) seeking an Advisory Opinion regarding the Postal Service’s plan to consolidate its processing network and substantially lengthen service standards, including the elimination of overnight delivery for first-class mail.  Under the Postal Reorganization Act, the Postal Service must seek such an Advisory Opinion from the PRC before it implements any “change in the nature of postal services which will generally affect service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis.”

The NPMHU immediately intervened in the PRC proceedings and, over the course of the last several months, has been submitting written interrogatories and other document requests, attempting to uncover whether the Postal Service has overstated the anticipated savings and under-estimated the difficulties of the closings and consolidations currently planned.  Counsel for the NPMHU had the opportunity to cross-examine postal witnesses at live hearings spanning from March through June.  The NPMHU also submitted affirmative written evidence to explain how the proposed changes would adversely affect mail service and mail handlers and other postal employees.  Special thanks are owed to the following Mail Handlers for contributing their own statements to this evidence:  Northeast Region Vice President and Local 300 President Paul Hogrogian; National Office Contract Administration Department Representative Michael Hora; Local 297 Vice President Chris Bentley; Local 307 President Jim Haggarty; Local 305 President Kenny Hayes; Local 309 President David Wilkin; and Local 301 President Bob Broxton.

The NPMHU has now filed its first post-hearing brief on this matter.  Here a few excerpts from that submission:

The Commission is charged by Congress with giving its considered opinion on this Postal Service proposal, as the planned service standard changes will “generally affect service”—indeed, substantially degrade service—“on a nationwide . . . basis.  In so doing, the Commission is required by statute to consider whether the Postal Service’s plan shows due deference to the policies contained in Title 39, including the following specific service standard objectives stated in 39 U.S.C. § 3691:

(A) To enhance the value of postal services to both senders and recipients.

(B) To preserve regular and effective access to postal services in all communities, including those in rural areas or where post offices are not self-sustaining.

C) To reasonably assure Postal Service customers delivery reliability, speed and frequency consistent with reasonable rates and best business practices.

The ultimate question before the Commission is whether the Postal Service’s proposal is reasonably calculated to achieve these objectives, and, more pointedly, whether its proposal is a necessary and appropriate measure to preserve “reasonable rates.” Based on the record of evidence before the Commission, the NPMHU submits that the Postal Service has not done the proper analysis to support the conclusion that its proposal is indeed such a necessary and appropriate measure.

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The NPMHU urges the Commission to issue an opinion finding that the Postal Service’s proposal is ill-advised. The Commission should advise the Postal Service to undertake additional analysis before dismantling a time-tested network that would be prohibitively difficult and expensive to re-create. In particular, the Postal Service should be advised to recalculate its anticipated savings to correct indefensible estimates and miscalculations; to submit its proposed network to a simulation model to ensure that the network can operate as planned; to test, through a pilot project, whether the proposed expanded operating windows are feasible and what the associated maintenance effects will be; to develop a more defensible method of determining what, if any, productivity improvements can be achieved through expanding the operating window; to consider how its proposed network could facilitate or foreclose entry into burgeoning markets; and to investigate what savings could be achieved while maintaining overnight delivery for some substantial portion of First-Class Mail.

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While it is beyond dispute that the Postal Service must take timely steps to address realistic financial constraints and a changing postal market, it is the province of the Commission to ensure that these steps will result in the improvements in savings and efficiency predicted by the Postal Service, rather than to further degrade an important public service. Seven months of proceedings before the Commission have shown that the Postal Service is poised to dismantle one of its most important assets— its extensive national network for processing and distribution of mail—without having done the homework for either the Postal Service or the Commission to determine that its plan is feasible, or advisable. As such, the Commission should render its opinion finding this proposal ill-advised.

Reply briefs are due later this month, and the PRC is expected to issue its opinion in late summer or early fall.  Please stay tuned for additional information on this important matter.